ALMOST 30 YEARS AGO, I landed my first fulltime job. I worked at a state-run academic institution, earning $16,000 a year. The sole retirement benefit was a pension plan with a five-year vesting period. There were no investment choices to be made. There was no ability to invest additional funds, beyond what my employer contributed to the plan. It was a retirement plan requiring no participation on my part.
My second job came with the option of investing in a traditional 401(k) plan.
“FINANCIAL independence” has become a catchphrase over the past decade—in part because it’s the FI in FIRE, short for financial independence/retire early, a movement that’s captured the imagination of some and earned scorn from others.
The strategies touted by the financial independence movement are simple enough: Earn a large salary. Live frugally. Invest a substantial percentage of your income in low-cost mutual funds. The objective: Accumulate savings equal to at least 25 times your total annual spending.
I’M A DOG LOVER. I’ve had four Cardigan Welsh Corgis share their lives with me. Over the past 25 years, dog food, veterinary care and training classes have consumed a large percentage of my disposable income. By necessity, I’ve learned a few simple ways to reduce the cost of pet ownership—including these five strategies:
1. Pet insurance. One of my Corgis, Riley, needed a $5,000 orthopedic surgery when he was a puppy.
COLLEGE STUDENTS who borrow graduate with an average $37,000 in loans. While many people believe loans are the only way to finance a college education, that’s simply not the case. Here are five ways to get an advanced education while minimizing debt:
1. Stay close to home. Sure, it’s fun to think about moving across the country to go to school. But staying close to home after high school comes with several benefits.
WHEN I MARRIED FOR the first time, I didn’t think much about it. I was in my 20s. My new husband (and future ex-husband) and I had already been living together for nearly a decade. Neither of us had any items of real value, so the financial implications of joining our lives meant very little. Marriage, it seemed, was just the obvious next step in our relationship.
When I married for the second time,
I WAS 51 YEARS OLD when I ate prime rib for the first time. As it turned out, it was a life-changing moment. It might be difficult to believe eating a choice cut of beef could lead to an altered understanding of financial priorities, but it did.
I grew up in a fairly typical 1970s middle class family. Hamburger Helper, tuna casserole and peanut butter sandwiches made up the bulk of my diet. Our family rarely ate out and,
THIS TIME OF YEAR, nightly news shows often feature a montage of clips from various commencement and graduation speeches. The speakers, mostly well-known business people, politicians and celebrities, dish out anecdotes and inspirational words to hordes of newly minted college graduates.
If I were ever invited to speak at a commencement, I’d offer a more commonsense approach, sharing some of the insights I’ve gained from working in higher education for more than two decades.
I FIRST BEGAN tracking my net worth in 2013. Back then, I was newly divorced, in my mid-40s and struggling to figure out what my financial future would look like. I painstakingly logged into my various bank, retirement and investment accounts, and entered their values into an Excel spreadsheet.
As a result of my divorce, I’d lost 50% of my state pension. I did, however, receive half the equity from the sale of our home.
I’VE LIVED IN OREGON most of my life. When I was growing up, agriculture, logging and fishing were the state’s dominant industries. In the 1970s and 1980s, the economy began transitioning from one based on natural resources to one rooted in technology, travel and manufacturing. A few decades ago, companies like Weyerhaeuser and Georgia-Pacific were among the state’s leading employers. These days, Intel is the largest, keeping more than 20,000 Oregonians gainfully employed.
But it isn’t just Oregon’s private sector that’s seen plenty of change.
FOR MORE THAN 20 years, I’ve been the biology department manager at a small, liberal arts college located in the Pacific Northwest. My job is unique because I interact, on a daily basis, not only with students, staff and faculty at the college, but also with various building maintenance personnel, sales reps and instrument-repair folks who are critical to the successful operation of the department.
For me, it’s an interesting study in contrast.
WITH MY OFFER OF $375,000 accepted, I was faced with coming up with $80,000 to cover my 20% down payment and other closing costs. I had additional expenses as well: There was a home inspection, radon test and sewer assessment that all had to be paid for. And because I’d be breaking the lease on my apartment, I would also need an additional $1,800 for that.
Coming up with the first $50,000 was easy.
DURING THE FIRST three weeks of house hunting, I looked at a dozen different properties. None met all the criteria I’d set for my “ideal” home, but a couple came close. My price point of $380,000 limited me to looking at smaller, starter-type homes. The competition for those houses was often fierce. On at least three occasions, a home I wanted to view would appear as a “new listing” one day and be marked as “pending sale” the next.
WHAT SORT OF HOUSE should I buy? My first consideration was budget. While I’d been preapproved for a $403,000 loan, I knew I wasn’t going to borrow that much. Doing so would mean spending well over half my net income on my mortgage. Instead, I figured out how much cash I had for a down payment—$80,000—and then decided to take out a loan of not more than $300,000. That way, I’d be making a 20% down payment and could avoid buying private mortgage insurance.
WHEN I FINALLY MADE the decision to apply for a mortgage, time was of the essence. Mortgage rates were rising daily and I wanted to lock in a reasonable rate as quickly as I could.
Luckily, I’m one of those people who pride themselves on being well-organized. The loan officer at my credit union sent me a lengthy list of financial documents I would need to provide before she could begin processing my loan application.
JUST A FEW MONTHS ago, I wrote about my housing plans. Those plans included waiting until I was closer to retirement age before purchasing a home. Having spent the past five years as a renter, I assumed I’d keep renting until I was ready to leave fulltime work behind.
Living in a relatively inexpensive apartment complex came with a few benefits. It allowed me to invest a large part of my income in various retirement accounts.